Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price/Mr. Glass in Glass, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. (Photo Credit: Jessica Kourkounis/Universal Pictures).

An essential guide to the secrets of the M. Night Shyamalan universe

Alex Casey guides you through the M. Night Shyamalan universe, and shares some tips on how you can live in it. 

Movie fans will know that this is a big week for the M. Night Shyamalan universe. His latest film Glass, opening today (January 17), marks his most ambitious project yet – even more ambitious than the time Mel Gibson killed the aliens with a glass of water. The third film in a decades-spanning superhero trilogy that nobody really knew was a trilogy, Glass is a testament to Shyamalan’s devotion to punking his audience year after year, film after film.

But there’s a lot more to Shyamalan than just pulling a fast one and writing perhaps the most shocking twist ending of all time. He’s the director who cried wolf, sure, but he’s got many more tricks up his sleeve than that. With nearly 20 films in his canon, his preferred visual style, tone and themes are easy to pick. Without further ado, here are the cardinal rules of the M. Night Shyamalan universe, and some pointers on how you can incorporate them into your own life.

There must be a suspenseful flashlight

A big fan of patience and slow-burning suspense, Shyamalan loves a good flashlight slash gas lamp slash flaming torch to throw some spooky diegetic light into his scenes – and so can you! These days everyone has a torch on their phone, so what’s stopping you from throwing up some beams anytime you want to freak out your friends and family in the middle of the night?! Here are some examples for your Pinterest board.

Ambience is key

There must be an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation

Just like New Zealand TV’s greatest reality show Living the Dream, M. Night Shyamalan loves nothing more than taking an average Joe and throwing him into a remarkable situation. You might be a humble science teacher forced to save the world from terrorist trees. You might be an ex-pastor, struggling with his faith as the world is invaded by aliens. You might be travelling to work one day, and then wake up the only survivor of a deadly train crash.

Just getting the Western Line to Newmarket

My advice to you, bog standard reader presumably stuck in their middling ways, is to discover something truly astounding to gain a renewed sense of purpose, just like Shyamalan likes to do with his characters. Besides, we can’t be sure he’s not orchestrating moments like these across the world already. That spaghetti dump up Mount Vic last year? Shyamalan. The fish falling from the sky onto Parnell Baths? Shyamalan. The people who suffered through it? Better off.

There must be an M. Night Shyamalan cameo

Taking cues from Alfred Hitchcock – who Shyamalan himself is clearly a fan of – no Shyamalan film is complete without a cameo from the man himself. Some may call it ego, but I prefer to call it the world’s greatest game of Where’s Wally. Here are some of his finest offerings from over two decades of photobombing his own work:

Blink and you’ll miss him

Integrating M. Night appearances into your own life is easy – just let him make an unannounced cameo whenever the mood takes you! That’s how he does it!

My friends and family like me a lot

There must be Bruce Willis

Okay, maybe not a constant presence of Bruce Willis, but let’s just say a notable presence. Maybe you could hire an impersonator, or take this cardboard cut-out for a spin? Willis is Shyamalan’s most recurring star, first working with him on 1999’s The Sixth Sense. At the time, it was a massive gamble to cast Hollywood’s hottest action star (he had just saved the whole world in Armageddon) in a low budget, slow-moving thriller helmed by an unknown director.

Spoiler alert: it paid off big time.

Although Sixth Sense was a commercial and critical smash hit, it was what happened next year that solidified Willis as the jewel in Shyamalan’s crown. In the role of David Dunn in superhero thriller Unbreakable, Willis became a key player in the Glass trilogy – one that would eventually span over 18 years. Culminating in Glass, which opens in New Zealand cinemas today (January 17), Willis’ ordinary man-turned superhuman Dunn returns to fight off two of Shyamalan’s greatest villains.

Will it be the last we see of the iconic Willis/Shyamalan duo? If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s never to be too sure.

Read more here: Everything you need to know before seeing Glass

There must be a monster

In the Shyamalan universe, monsters come in many forms. There’s the aliens in Signs, the mysterious hooded hedgehogs of The Village, the dead people in The Sixth Sense, the devil in Devil, this thing in After Earth, the murderous trees in The Happening and the bloodthirsty Beast in Split. I felt a bit bad for including her in this section, but Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Story in The Lady in the Water also definitely counts. Perhaps the only monster-free Shyamalan film is Stuart Little, although I would argue that Snowbell is maybe the most monstrous of all.

Ahh! Real Monsters

If you don’t have your own live-in monster on hand to defeat, look again. If Devil taught us anything, it’s that the monster is already among us.

There must be a Lion King moment

No, not that Lion King moment. And probably not that one either. I’m talking about the Mufasa in the lake moment, where Simba gazes at his own reflection and sees his own father staring back, having the realisation that the power was in him the whole time. Shyamalan is a huge fan of using reflective surfaces in his films as a way of detaching the audience from the characters, placing a barrier up and showing them in a state of identity crisis and/or unravelling and/or alien hunting. I don’t suppose I need to tell you to spend more time questioning yourself in the mirror, but I’d recommend a good 20-30 mins a day if you really want to live the Shyamalan life.

Blade stunner

There must be a twist at the end

The final flourish to any Shyamalan classic is a last minute rug pull that changes everything you thought you knew about the story. In your own life, keep people guessing by cancelling plans, sneaking up on your friends in their sleep and showing up to an office job that you haven’t had for a decade. There’s nothing like a good plot twist to keep your audience on their toes. On that note, here’s my cat wearing a chicken hat in the final scene of The Sixth Sense. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

This content was created in paid partnership with The Walt Disney Company. Learn more about our partnerships here


Glass – a new film from M. Night Shyamalan, Writer/Director of Unbreakable and Split. See it in cinemas from January 17.

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